Implications of LAUSD’s Vaccine Requirement

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Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG

LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner watches a student get a flu shot at a flu shot and COVID-19 testing clinic at San Fernando Middle School in San Fernando on Friday, October 16, 2020.

Last month, LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner confirmed that all LAUSD students will need to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

He clarified that schools will be able to reopen before the majority of students receive the vaccine, but that vaccinations will continue to remain a priority.

“[A COVID-19 vaccine] would be no different than students who are vaccinated for measles or mumps,” he said in a pre-recorded statement obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

Parents and students who choose not to take the vaccine “will always have the option for a child to stay in online learning and therefore not have to go back to campus,” Beutner said. 

The superintendent also encouraged a distribution plan in which vaccines are administered at school immunization sites, similar to school site COVID-19 testing—providing a convenient alternative to L.A. County’s rather cumbersome mass vaccination centers like Dodger Stadium. 

There are a few efficiency and distribution-related concerns with getting needles in the arms of all 600,000 students within the district, many of whom haven’t yet participated in the mandatory district-wide testing program. 

One complication of the new requirement is the lack of research concerning vaccine efficacy and safety in children among other groups.

The youngest participant in the Pfizer vaccine clinical trials was 16, while the youngest for the Moderna trials was 18.

Given this, further research or authorization will likely need to be done, depending on which vaccine LAUSD plans to purchase and distribute—until one or both of the vaccines are approved for pediatric use, or until a separate vaccine for children becomes available.

Math teacher John Bruno illuminated another possible challenge in the vaccine distribution process.

“There is definitely an obstacle regarding location,” he said. “Right now we don’t have many locations around the city that are available for people to receive the vaccine, though that number is expanding.

“The time it takes to go through them COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites is another issue. You see how long some of those lines are at Dodger Stadium, which is why Austin Beutner would like schools to be places where people go to get vaccines. That would open it up even more and make the process quicker.”

Bruno says he is among many teachers and school staff who affirmed their support for this requirement.

“I’m in favor of it,” he said. “I think vaccines for anything that is this widely spread and disastrous health-wise, and potentially fatal should be mandated.”

He also confirmed that the vaccine would be required for teachers and staff, along with their other necessary immunizations. 

“As teachers, we actually have to get a TB shot every five years,” he said. “It’s one of the terms of our employment, and if we don’t get the TB shot, we can’t teach. So this will just be another one that we’re all going to have to get.”

Recently, California also adopted a new age-based eligibility plan for the vaccine rollout, in which older and more vulnerable groups will take precedence over front-line workers such as teachers.

There is no definitive timeline for teachers to be vaccinated, according to UTLA. Bruno believes that this may further push back the district’s reopening plans. 

“Next was supposed to be teachers and other front-line workers, but now they want to do it based on age, so that’s going to change things up,” Bruno said.

Despite this setback, Bruno remains optimistic that students and teachers will be able to return to school in some form by the start of the 2021-2022 school year.

“I think for the fall semester we will be at school,” he said. “The President said earlier this week that he thinks by August most Americans will be vaccinated. We’ll see how it goes.”